COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — State senators are holding public hearings to find out what people in South Carolina think about the new health care law as they try to put together a bill that would keep some parts of the law from being applied in the state.
About 30 people spoke at a public hearing Wednesday morning in Columbia. The hearing concerned a bill that passed the South Carolina House last session, but will likely be changed before the Senate takes it up when legislators return to Columbia in January.
As written, the bill would give tax breaks to people who have to pay a penalty for not having insurance, prevent South Carolina from ever creating a health care exchange and urge the state attorney general to sue on behalf of anyone harmed by the new health care law supported by President Barack Obama.
The bill initially took a much harder stance, making it a crime for any federal employee to try to enforce the new health care law in the state, but was amended before it passed the House.
Most of the 31 people who spoke in Columbia urged senators to do whatever they could to fight the health care law in South Carolina.
The public hearings are part of a committee run by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. He said he will take the public input and add information from law professors, scholars and think tanks to craft a bill that he hopes can pass the Senate. It is currently set to be the second bill debated when the Legislature returns in January.
But some business leaders who testified see problems. The tax breaks could cost up to $100 million, keep healthier people from buying insurance and increase the possibility the government will have to take over health care, said Jim Ritchie, a former state senator and executive director of the South Carolina Alliance of Health Plans, which represents private insurance companies in the state.
The language encouraging the attorney general to sue on behalf of anyone harmed by the health care law could also become expensive, Ritchie said.
"Is harm a letter of cancellation from a carrier?" Ritchie said. "Is harm a person losing a job or having hours reduced?"
The public comments ranged from a small businessman who said he could never create another business again without removing the burden of the new law to several people who told stories about losing their old health insurance and having to buy more expensive coverage because of the law.
Paula Kinziger from York County said her deductible more than tripled and she has to now pay 40 percent of her medical bills instead of 20 percent after she and her husband had to change policies.
"We would like our money in our pocket for our choices so we can choose who we want to help," Kinziger said. "We don't want the tyrannical federal government telling us and IRS agents breathing down our back."
A few people testified in favor of the new law. A worker hired to help people apply for government-subsidized health care told a story about helping a family save $20,000 a year because the new law means that they no longer had to buy high-risk insurance to cover two children with pre-existing conditions.
"It's a shame in the richest country in the world, people have to go bankrupt to help their family members maintain their health and livelihood," navigator Tim Liszewski said.
Senators held their first public hearing Tuesday night in Greenville, and the final hearing was Wednesday night in North Charleston.